Cardin stays in Congress Governor's race: Democrat opts out, leaving Rehrmann as anti-Glendening candidate.

September 04, 1997

WHEN IT COMES to politics, Benjamin L. Cardin doesn't like to take chances. He prefers to work things out in advance. When he saw he couldn't do that in next year's election for governor, Mr. Cardin decided not to run against his fellow Democrat, incumbent Parris N. Glendening. Instead, Mr. Cardin said he plans to remain in Congress, representing parts of Baltimore City and its suburbs.

This comes as a blow to his supporters. They fear that Mr. Glendening is vulnerable to a Republican challenge from Ellen R. Sauerbrey. But Mr. Cardin, having tested the political waters, opted out of what would have been a hard-fought and divisive Democratic primary.

That's unfortunate. Mr. Cardin has an effective record as a legislator, both in Annapolis and in Washington. His disagreements with Mr. Glendening over his stewardship of the state and its future direction would have given Democratic voters a clear choice.

The congressman's withdrawal from this race leaves Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann as the lone Democratic challenger to Mr. Glendening. She comes from a relatively small county. As a conservative, Ms. Rehrmann also may be at a disadvantage in a Democratic primary in which liberal voters often predominate.

But she can boast a solid record as a tough fiscal conservative who has backed improvements in education, social programs and law enforcement. As a former member of the General Assembly, Ms. Rehrmann has good rapport with state lawmakers, too. Still, she is a decided underdog.

Mr. Cardin posed the biggest primary threat to Mr. Glendening. The governor effectively discouraged the congressman by lining early endorsements from black lawmakers and by soliciting signatures on a letter from Montgomery County Jewish leaders asking Mr. Cardin not to run. The strategy worked.

In the end, Mr. Cardin couldn't control events. County executives refused to endorse him before the conclusion of the next General Assembly in the spring. Without early support from these suburban leaders, Mr. Cardin was unwilling to take the plunge.

Anti-Glendening forces now must turn to Ms. Rehrmann. She has until late spring to impress them. That means putting together a statewide organization, building a big campaign fund and raising her name recognition, especially in the Washington suburbs. If she fails to catch fire, other contenders could come forth, most notably Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

At this stage, Mr. Glendening seems in solid position to reclaim his party's nomination. That thrills Republicans, who view Ms. Sauerbrey (if she survives her own primary against Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker) as their best hope in three decades to capture the Governor's Mansion. Polls show her in a statistical dead heat with Mr. Glendening.

Yet much can change in the next year. Politics is best played by those willing to risk it all. That's not Mr. Cardin's game. He prefers a sure thing, which rarely occurs in the pursuit of Maryland's highest elective office.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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